The view from the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor—the beach, the windmill, the bay—is something that Tracy Mitchell, Executive Director of the Theatre, will miss dearly if they relocate. The not-for-profit, 299-seat theater has been a well-known entity and integral part of the Sag Harbor community since 1991. After 20 years of paying rent, the powers that be thought it wise for the theater to finally buy a property they could call home. This is not a rash decision. They have known for some time that they would not renew their lease in May of 2013. Or will they?
Over the years, there have been rent increases and overall cost upsurges of running the theater. In return, the theater has tried hard not to raise ticket prices, wanting the community to be able to enjoy local theatre without emptying their pockets. “We can’t keep charging more for seats,” says Mitchell. “Especially for the locals all winter long, we like to run low-price performances.”
Aside from the pending rent increase after the lease expires, Bay Street Theatre has reportedly drawn issue with the fact that in their 20-year tenure in the space, they have never been offered a long-term lease. A major benefit to owning the theater or of being a long-term tenant is the potential for increased funding. Especially in these tighter economic times, an institution without a permanent home is less likely to receive the donations necessary to maintain its programs.
At the moment there are two alternative spaces under consideration: the Parrish Museum building in Southampton Village or an unknown alternate site in Sag Harbor, the latter being the preferred option for Mitchell and the board of directors. “The bottom line is we’re trying to stay in Sag Harbor,” she concedes. They had considered the new industrial park that is being built at Gabreski Airport in Westhampton, but decided against it. Ideally Bay Street Theatre would like to be in a location where there is pedestrian traffic and a village center.
Every new place they set their eyes on offers its own set of challenges. “There are so many variables. It’s going to take some time to find out what a viable option might be,” explains Mitchell. “As we move into negotiations there is always some new issue to deal with.”
Any locale should be lucky to land the theater. Bay Street brings about 30,000 people a year to downtown Sag Harbor, which in turn pumps money—in the realm of $5 million—into the village. Patrons who visit the theater dine at area restaurants, stay at local hotels and rental homes, and shop at mom-and-pop merchants. It is a great addition to any village—town officials and those involved in commerce think so.
Obviously, money is a factor in the search for a new location. Any site would have a significant renovation price tag—it’s not like there’s an empty theater waiting somewhere for them to come and settle. They would need to create the space from scratch, which would be a giant undertaking. One of the options they are visualizing for a new space is a black box theater, which is a smaller, simple room within the theater that will feature less costly productions and performances.
The real estate market is heating up. Here’s to hoping that the Bay Street Theatre can take advantage.